Earlville-Leland first-year coach Dillon Reel takes over a Red Raiders team that finished 15-8-1 overall, 11-3 (second place) in the Little Ten Conference and reached a regional championship contest.
Reel, who was the E-L junior varsity coach last season, grew up in the central Illinois town of Mattoon. He was a three-sport athlete at Mattoon High School and pitched four years at Greenville University (formerly Greenville College), graduating in 2016.
"I think my personality is one that is kind of 'go with the flow' and I think as a pitcher you have to have that mentality," said Reel. "But as a coach, that isn't always an option. I'm kind of finding my way as a varsity coach with every day that goes by as far as how to handle things. I have former coaches back home that I have called and thrown thoughts by them. They have been great about giving me advice and helping me out."
Reel's roster of 16 players consists of six seniors, three juniors, five sophomores and a pair of freshmen. E-L lost All-LTC pick Grant Campbell, who hit .558 and had an ERA of 1.90, to graduation.
Three-time unanimous All-Little Ten Conference and Times All-Area First Team selection senior catcher Brennan Sweeney hit .500 with 22 RBIs in 2018, and Reel is excited to have experience behind the plate in his initial varsity coaching season.
"(Brennan) is a great leader on and off the field and will be my second coach on the field, while (senior outfielder/pitcher) Jared Pickert is in the same mold," Reel said. "Senior Dalton Gast is a good lefty arm and will be a solid outfielder and will also be counted on to pitch some big innings for us.
"Tyler Bretsch (Sr., two-time All-LTC, .414, 13 RBIs, 1.75 ERA) will be our leader in the infield and will also be asked to log some key innings on the mound. We will have a few younger guys that played up last year and others playing at the varsity level for the first time, but they all will need to step up a little bit as well."
Reel says every one of his players will be asked to contribute, with the rest of the roster represented by seniors Collin Fasking (2B, Util.), Jacob Herman (OF); juniors Branson Vahl (1B/P), Seth Schultz (OF), Evan Aviles (2B, Util.); sophomores Davis Sweeney (OF/P), Mason Shannon (2B/Util.), Jacob Pickert (1B/3B), Noah Lemke (1B/3B); and freshmen Jeremy Weymouth (OF/P) and Bryar Keller (INF/Util.).
"In general I'm going to be leaning on the seniors, because even though I was the junior varsity coach last year, a lot of the teams and players we will be facing I don't know much about them," said Reel. "My players have been playing against kids from these other schools growing up, so I will be taking their knowledge as I learn our opponents' strengths and weaknesses.
"One of this group's strengths is its competitiveness. I think 75 percent of these kids play soccer as well, and you only had to watch a few minutes of one of their games last fall to see that. They aren't going to stop playing the game no matter the score or inning.
"That is a mentality you can't teach, they just have it."